UK nurses strike for pay, test health care system in crisis

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LONDON – British newspapers are calling it the “Winter of Discontent”.

Major strikes are creating chaos at hospitals and gridlock at transportation hubs, with walkouts increasing by firefighters, baggage handlers, paramedics, driver examiners, immigration officials, bus drivers, construction workers, mail carriers and railroad conductors. Public has been warned to avoid train travel ahead of Christmas.

The fact that nurses are also on strike is of great concern to the government and the public. Teachers are threatening a strike at the start of the new year.

A wide range of public sector workers are in open revolt against the Conservative Party’s 12-year-old “austerity budgets” and rising costs of living in 2022. Energy prices are so high here that the government has offered to subsidize home heating. Bills so people don’t freeze in their apartments.

It follows the firing of the previous Tory government, Liz Truss, the shortest-serving prime minister in modern British history. He called for massive tax cuts, but with no way to pay for them, markets faltered and Truss was sent into early retirement.

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The British government is now preparing to mobilize 1,200 army troops to drive ambulances over the holidays. If necessary, government employees from other agencies will be called in to check passports at border crossings.

In bad years Corona virus Pandemic, millions of ordinary Britons, along with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (who is also gone), stood on their doorsteps during a severe lockdown to smash pots and pans and clap for National Health Service workers, hailing them as front-line heroes.

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Now the nurses say they should stop clapping. They are burned out, overworked and underpaid, they say, and need real raises to keep up with inflation, which is above 10 percent.

“They’re taking advantage of us,” said Rachel Ambrose, 40, a psychiatric nurse who works with children and youth in Oxford. “We’re not looking for a fancy lifestyle. We’re nurses. We want to pay our bills. We want warmth.”

Ambrose said the nurses were “fired, we’re angry, we’re determined” and that “these strikes will continue because they’re ignoring us.”

He pointed to staff shortages in the NHS, which are undermining patient care and pushing nurses to breaking point. Sick days have soared since the pandemic — and nurses are leaving the profession or moving abroad.

UK nurses fight for pay, say strike is future of health care

Britain’s public health system has 50,000 nurses. Half of all new hires today come from abroad, as the UK either cannot provide enough training at home or pays too low a wage to attract new workers. Brexit is preventing the “free movement” of nurses from Eastern Europe to Britain.

The government says the average nurse’s salary is now 35,600 pounds ($43,300). New nurses are underpaid; Experienced nurses with specialized skills are paid more; Overtime also increases pay.

Nurses earn the highest wages in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany and Spain. However, British nurses are paid more than their colleagues in France and Italy.

After the worst week of strikes in recent British history, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s new government is still refusing to sit down with unions, calling pay rises “unaffordable” and warning that the government must keep the payroll tax. Vai Inflation is under control.

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The government supports a pay rise of around 4.75 per cent for ambulance workers and nurses – as recommended by independent pay review bodies. The nurses union is demanding a 19 percent increase.

A spokesperson for Sunak told reporters Monday that “it would be irresponsible to move forward with double-digit wage awards.”

Britain’s trains have been paralyzed in the biggest rail strike in 30 years

But Sunak and his government ministers are learning that the government is stamping on the railway workers and their “union bosses” and fighting the nurses. Railway strikes create frustrating conflicts for urban commuters and holidaymakers – highlighted by anti-union press. Nurses, on the other hand, are respected. That’s what a YouGov poll found this month 64 percent Britain supported the nurses’ strike.

On Monday, Sunak called an emergency cabinet meeting to formulate plans to continue the country’s vital national services, with the military on standby.

Around 10,000 ambulance staff in England and Wales are due to go on strike on Wednesday. Members of the Royal College of Nursing walked out on Thursday and picketed again on Tuesday.

Nurses working in emergency departments are staying on the job, but hospitals are struggling to maintain staff for basic care. Many routine procedures, exams, non-emergency surgeries and other treatments are delayed.

Some people who have suffered a heart attack or stroke wait an hour on average for ambulances – compared to the target of 18 minutes.

In nearby doctor’s offices, where most patients see their general practitioners and nurses, staff describe a system in crisis due to chronic underfunding and labor shortages.

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Anthony Johnson, 29, a cardiac nurse in Leeds, is among those backing the Royal College of Nursing’s decision to leave for the first time in its 106-year history.

“We don’t have wage increases that keep pace with inflation. That’s why you see nurses going to food banks and the number of vacancies has increased drastically,” she said. “We have terrible nurse-to-patient ratios. Our clinical guidelines are one nurse per eight patients, but we generally don’t meet that. The truth is, it’s one nurse for 13 patients, so it’s constantly unsafe and putting patients at risk.

He wants to work in Britain and stay. But he warned that many are looking abroad.

“We train nurses to export, usually to Canada, Australia and New Zealand… where nurses can earn an extra £10,000. [$12,200]” Johnson said. “Instead of investing in our staff, the UK government is stealing nurses from the rest of the world. They take a pay cut and let it happen.

Julia Patterson, founder of Every Doctor, a campaign group representing 1,200 UK doctors, said her doctors were “really supportive and will pull together to keep patients safe in the absence of nurses. They have to work incredibly hard, but they support their colleagues in this.”

He noted that doctors are also voting on whether to strike in the New Year.

“People are dying because of public health failures,” Patterson said.

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